Modern Conservative Judaism Evolving Thought and Practice

About the Book

A major Conservative Movement leader of our times employs his unique position as a player in many historical events and texts to provide a personal, behind-the- scenes guide to the evolution of Conservative Jewish thought and practice over the last half century. His candid observations shed light into the sometimes unified, sometimes diverse (and occasionally contentious) thought processes behind the modern movement’s most important laws, policies, and documents—which, for the first time, are excerpted and contextualized, all in one place.

Beginning with the roots of contemporary Conservative Judaism in 1840s Germany and its evolution in America, Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff delves into Conservative thought and practice ever since, commenting upon the ongoing tension between constancy and change that is a hallmark of the Movement. In Part I: God, he explores various ways Conservative Jews think about God and the multifaceted roles of prayer. In Part II: Torah, he considers diverse study methods and approaches to Jewish law, what determines Conservative practice, how women’s roles came to change, bioethical rulings from contraception to cloning, business ethics, ritual observance (e.g., forming a minyan on the Internet, playing sports on Shabbat), and moral guidance on social issues (capital punishment, responsibilities of and towards the poor) as well as on sex and family life (non-marital sex, same-sex and transgender rulings). Part III: Israel considers who is a Jew and various stances toward and within Israel.

The worth of this unprecedented comprehensive insider’s guide to Conservative Judaism will be apparent to any student of modern Jewish history.

“Anyone interested in what Conservative rabbis and scholars believe, and how Conservative Judaism differs from Orthodoxy and Reform, will find no better sourcebook than this passionate work by one of the movement’s foremost scholars and thinkers.  An invaluable collection of documents concerning beliefs, rulings and responsa.”

– Jonathan D. Sarna, author of American Judaism: A History

“Rabbi Elliot Dorff is a master teacher. The spiritual depth and intellectual richness of the Conservative movement are evident throughout his wonderfully clear guide to Conservative Judaism’s thought and practice. The volume will be welcomed by congregants,  rabbis, and students alike.” 

– Arnold Eisen, Chancellor, The Jewish Theological Seminary

 “Modern Conservative Judaism is required reading for scholars and laypersons alike. A magisterial scholar, Rabbi Elliot Dorff enables both the pluralism and the distinctive legal-historical-religious character of the Conservative Movement to shine forth All students of American Judaism and American religion will delight in its pages!”

– David Ellenson, Chancellor Emeritus and former President, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion


Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff

Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff is rector and Sol and Anne Dorff Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at American Jewish University. His many books on Jewish ethics and law include Modern Conservative Judaism (JPS, 2018), For the Love of God and People (JPS, 2007), Love Your Neighbor and Yourself (JPS, 2003), Matters of Life and Death (JPS, 1998), and the National Jewish Book Award–winner To Do the Right and the Good (JPS, 2002).

Book Reviews


Preface and Introduction

Addressing Gays and Lesbians

Responsum on Playing Sports on Shabbat

Riding to the Synagogue on Shabbat

Table of Contents

Foreword by Rabbi Julie Schonfeld

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